“The Many Voices: How to Balance the Demands on Your Time,” Ensign, Aug. 1979, 16
We may sometimes wonder how we can possibly accomplish all we want to in life when so many voices seek our time. The voices come from people we love and respect; the activities they encourage are commendable and important. But that’s the problem: How can we possibly do everything?
On one hand we may hear:
On the other hand we may hear:
“Never say no to a Church calling.”
“Spend more time with your family.”
“A woman should be involved in many fulfilling activities.”
“Motherhood is woman’s most important responsibility.”
“Be a success in your job.”
“Spend more time at home.”
“Be a good neighbor.”
“Spend more time on your Church calling.”
“Be involved politically and civically.”
“Avoid extremism—and remember your commitments to family and Church.”
Thus, the question—how can any dedicated Latter-day Saint find time for everything when so many voices—family, church, work, and community—make so many demands on his time?
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). This admonition is as appropriate today as it was anciently. It is unfortunate when we try to live in the past or in the future, at the expense of not focusing on the purpose of our present life’s season.
For example, it is sad to see a mother with young children escaping to the college classroom because it is intellectually stimulating and reminds her of her university days, while her children run unsupervised. It is equally sad to see a young teenage girl marrying too soon and having to cope with the responsibility of motherhood before she has finished her high school years.
The proportion of time a person spends in various activities differs significantly depending on the phase of life he is in. Each season of our life has a special purpose, and fulfillment comes through experiencing each season’s purpose at the proper time.
To decide what is right for us at a particular time and in a specific situation, we have to establish priorities. But what happens when two “right” principles conflict—spending time with family vs. fulfilling Church callings?
The key is realizing that each situation has to be prayerfully considered—that what may be right in one situation may not be applicable in another. In seeking priorities, we should determine which option is the most important in specific instances. For example, a crucial moment in a child’s life requiring the parents’ attention may take priority over a specific Church responsibility; but at another time, the spiritual welfare of a fellow ward member may take priority over watching a TV football game with a son. Accordingly, the question “Which comes first—the family or the Church?” is really the wrong question, if one answer is sought in all cases. The family and the Church are of prime importance, both are of God, and either may take precedence, depending upon the specific situation. Both are integral parts of the greater whole, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of our greatest individual needs is for each of us to learn to live by the Spirit. As we become sensitive to the Holy Ghost, we can better establish priorities for each season or circumstance that will be acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.
With the many voices seeking our time, it is sometimes convenient to get depressed and ask ourselves: “When will it ever end?” We will always have demands on our time, but our depression will decrease when we accept the fact that coping with demands is a natural part of life—when we don’t seek to escape them, but to face reality and live happily a day at a time.
Let’s look at an analogy: When a bicyclist pumps his legs, the bicycle moves and the rider remains balanced. But if he doesn’t pump and the bicycle stops moving, he loses his balance and falls over.
The same is true when we are depressed or stymied. By remaining inactive, waiting for the many demands to come to an end, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves, and our perspective becomes distorted. Movement and activity, on the other hand, help us maintain balance and keep our lives productive and in proper perspective.
To find harmony in our lives, we must learn to take control of the various demands on our time. Consider the analogy of a choir director. A good choir has many different voices singing alto, soprano, bass, and tenor. Although each singer might be an expert vocalist, if each were to sing his favorite song as loud as he desired without regard to the others, the result would be noise rather than music. The choir is beautiful when the director helps each singer to come in at the right time with the correct volume and expression. By taking control over the specialized interests of each vocalist, the director turns confusion into a balanced, melodic hymn.
The same is true with the varying “voiced demands” in our lives—family, genealogy, home teaching, missionary work, welfare assignments, temple work, meetings, civic responsibilities, neighbors, and profession. Rather than allowing these voices—all of them good—to determine their favorite hymn and volume, the Lord expects each of us to be the director of his life. It was the Lord who told Joseph Smith, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (D&C 58:28). And whether the result is dissonant noise or balanced, harmonious music depends on how we lead and phase in the different voices at the proper time, place, and intensity. It is our responsibility to control the balance, with inspiration from the Lord. The ultimate responsibility rests upon our shoulders as we exercise our free agency.
In response to the question “How can we possibly accomplish all we want to in life when so many voices seek our time?” we must set our priorities as we counsel with the Lord in prayer so that the many demands are phased into our lives according to the proper time and season. Then we can be pleased with what we are able to do as we happily seek to do it, rather than always being frustrated about what we are unable to accomplish. We can seek to find balance in our lives by being “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) and thereby overcoming many depressing moments. Whether our lives become a harmonious hymn or noisy turmoil depends on how we conduct the timing and intensity of the voices seeking our time. Applying these general principles to our specific circumstances will help us attain what the prophet Joseph Smith said is “the object and design of our existence”—happiness (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255).